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Texas Republican Lawmakers Aim To Nullify LGBT Nondiscrimination Protections Covering 7.5 Million People


Texas GOP lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that would nullify LGBT nondiscrimination protections covering 7.5 million people. 

The bill is being drafted in response to the Plano City Council's passage of an LGBT inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance last month. It's expected to be introduced by four Republican Plano-area lawmakers, including Rep. Matt Shaheen, above. 

The Texas Observer reports: 

Texas Pastor Council Executive Director David Welch, whose group is leading efforts to repeal equal rights ordinances in Plano and Houston, told the Observer the legislation would prohibit political subdivisions of the state from adding classes to nondiscrimination ordinances that aren’t protected under Texas or federal law—neither of which covers LGBT people.

“It should be a uniform standard statewide, and cities can’t just arbitrarily create new classes that criminalize a whole segment of the majority of the population,” Welch said. “It’s just self-evident that they’re going to try to do it city by city. We’re dealing with a broad public policy that creates criminal punishments. That’s a pretty serious issue, and when it’s based on a special agenda by a small, tiny fragment of the population … that’s a legitimate need and reason for the state Legislature to act.”

The bill reportedly will be modeled after a law that passed in Tennessee in 2011.

In the landmark 1996 case Romer v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Colorado law that banned nondiscrimination protections based on sexual orientation. However, the Tennessee bill attempted to get around Romer v. Evans by simply prohibiting any protected classes that aren't included in state law, rather than specifically targeting the LGBT community. The National Center for Lesbian Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the Tennessee law, but it was dismissed for lack of standing. Now, NCLR reportedly plans to file a federal lawsuit challenging the Tennessee law. 

NCLR Shannon Minter said the Tennessee bill passed in part because the business community was too slow in voicing its opposition to the measure. 

From The Texas Observer

“Hopefully this time in Texas the response will be more immediate, and I hope the legislators listen to the business community and do not do something that’s going to really hurt the Texas economy,” Minter said.

It’s been widely speculated that Plano passed its equal rights ordinance in response to Toyota’s decision to relocate a major facility to the city, after the company’s employees expressed concern about the lack of LGBT protections in Texas. Plano-based Frito-Lay also sent a letter to the City Council in support of the equal rights ordinance.

But Welch dismissed the argument that efforts to undo local nondiscrimination ordinances will hurt business, calling it “a red herring.” He said one of the engines of Texas’ strong economy is its “family-friendly” climate.

“We’re not going to let corporations, Toyota or anybody else, come in and dictate to the community what our standards are going to be on a moral level and religious level,” Welch said. “Companies like Frito-Lay had better take thought of who their customers are before they start trying to step up and ramrod these things though, because we will remember.”

The Texas legislative session didn't begin until Tuesday, but three other anti-LGBT bills have already been filed — two "license to discriminate" measures, as well one that aims to reban same-sex marriage in the event it becomes legal. Representatives from Equality Texas say they're expecting even more attacks fueled by backlash against the spread of same-sex marriage. 

Oops: The Ultimate Rick Perry Blooper Reel - VIDEO


Texas Republican Gov. Rick Perry will leave office this month as the longest-serving chief executive in the state's history. He's also been Texas' most anti-gay governor to date. 

Perry championed the state's 2005 marriage amendment, before holding a ceremonial signing of the legislation at an evangelical church in Fort Worth. When asked what he'd say to gay military veterans who protested outside the signing ceremony, Perry said: "Texans made a decision about marriage and if there's a state that has more lenient views than Texas, then maybe that's a better place for them to live.”

Years before, Perry had called Texas' sodomy ban "appropriate" before it was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lawrence v. Texas — but by 2011 he had apparently forgotten what the case was even about.  

He has also repeatedly compared homosexuality to alcoholism, including as part of his staunch defense of the Boy Scouts' ban on gays — a crusade which he once likened to opposing slavery. 

Perry ran a decidedly homophobic presidential campaign in 2012, which he kicked off with a rally hosted by the American Family Association, an anti-LGBT hate group. 

Of course, Perry's presidential campaign eventually crumbled thanks to a few of his trademark gaffes — which are the theme of a new video mashup toasting the departing governor from The Texas Tribune.

Given Perry's fascination with LGBT issues — he's also been dogged by rumors that he's closeted — it isn't surprising that the Tribune's blooper reel includes some of his most homophobic moments, such as his response to a question about "reparative therapy" last year, as well as a clip from his "Strong" presidential campaign ad. In the ad, which became the subject of some memorable memes, Perry declared while donning a "Brokeback Mountain"-esque jacket: "I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian, but you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school."

So long, Rick, we hardly knew ya. But we look forward to many more entertaining blunders in 2016 — assuming you're not in prison

Until then, watch the Tribune's mashup, AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Oops: The Ultimate Rick Perry Blooper Reel - VIDEO" »

Army Vet Gets 10 Years Probation For Brutal Attack On Two Gay Men In Downtown Austin: VIDEO


An Army veteran will serve 10 years of probation for brutally assaulting two gay men on Pride weekend in downtown Austin in 2012. 

Lambert Borgardt (right), who pleaded guilty Wednesday to aggravated assault, must also complete 200 hours of community service. Borgardt faces trial on a second count of assault in connection with the attack next year. 

Andrew Oppleman (above) and his friend, Nick Soret, were in line at a pizza truck near Austin's gay entertainment district on Sept. 21, 2012, when Borgadt reportedly thought Soret was checking him out. Borgardt became enraged and punched both men in the face. 

BorgadtOppleman lost nine teeth in the attack, which was captured on surveillance video, and Soret suffered a broken nose. Oppleman and Soret told police they felt they were targeted due to their sexual orientation, but the case wasn't prosecuted as an anti-gay hate crime.  

In court on Wednesday, Borgardt apologized for the attack, according to a report from KXAN-TV

“I apologize from the bottom of my heart, and I’ll do whatever it takes, whatever I can, whatever can work to pay you guys back for that,” said Borgardt.

However, Oppleman told KVUE-TV he doesn't believe Borgardt's apology was sincere: 

"The only part of closure I feel may not be complete is the perpetrator, Lambert Bogardt, his lack of showing true remorse for what he did, but more remorse for the predicament and the situation he's in," said Oppleman.

Borgardt's attorney, Bill Hines, said post-traumatic stress disorder could have been a factor in the attack:

“We’re pleased that the judge did the difficult work of balancing the really serious injuries with the incredible lifetime of honor and service [Borgardt] had in the military,” said Hines.

The Austin LGBT community held a march against hate crimes in response to the attack, and a local dentist provided Oppelman with free reconstructive surgery. 

Watch the reports from KVUE-TV and KXAN-TV (which includes the surveillance video), AFTER THE JUMP ...

Continue reading "Army Vet Gets 10 Years Probation For Brutal Attack On Two Gay Men In Downtown Austin: VIDEO" »

Texas Teen With Two Moms Delivers Rousing Speech In Support Of Marriage Equality: VIDEO


Freedom To Marry President Evan Wolfson was joined by Texas same-sex plaintiff couples for a marriage town hall at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin on Monday night.  

But Mason Marriott-Voss, a 16-year-old from Austin with two moms, stole the show with a rousing two-minute speech about the importance of bringing marriage equality to the Lone Star State.  

Marriott-Voss (shown with his family above) said when his two moms had him, same-sex marriage wasn't legal anywhere in the US, adding that a lot has changed, "but not here in Texas." 

"There are still people who stubbornly refuse to recognize family even when it's right in front of them," he said. "Some people are still genuinely concerned that my parents' love could harm tradition or erode society, maybe even threaten existing marriages."

Marriott-Voss talked about how ordinary his family is — his stepsister is a straight-A student who likes Harry Potter and his younger brother is wearing a Yoda-Santa hat every day in December in hopes that it will bring a white Christmas to Austin.  

"We share the same values and beliefs as everyone else, the same normal struggles and triumphs, except we are denied the basic dignity of being officially respected as the family that we are," Marriott-Voss said. "These anti-family laws create a raw deal for kids like me. Marriage is supposed to be a very important issue, but these laws cause children to be raised across the country in homes without it. The most important thing I want you to take away from me today, is that it's not our families that need to change, it's Texas." 

Freedom To Marry's Wolfson said people like Marriott-Voss continuing to tell their families' stories will be key to bringing same-sex marriage to Texas and the other 14 states where it's still banned.

A federal district judge struck down Texas' marriage bans in February, but Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott has appealed the decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court. The 5th Circuit will hear oral arguments in the Texas case Jan. 9 — around the same time the U.S. Supreme Court meets to decide whether to hear appeals of a 6th Circuit ruling upholding marriage bans in four states.

But Wolfson's message to the more than 100 who attended Monday's town hall was that it's critical for people in Texas to remain engaged rather than sitting back and watching because they think victory is inevitable. 

"Clearly we are winning and there's tremendous reason for hope and optimism and excitement, but winning is not won, and the way we're winning is by getting out there and talking and telling our stories and building support, and showing the country and courts that America is ready and they (the courts) can do this, and that there's real urgency and they need to do it," Wolfson said. "So why would we stop doing what's working when we're on the verge of winning?" 

Watch Marriott-Voss' speech, and check out a few more photos from the event, AFTER THE JUMP... 

Continue reading "Texas Teen With Two Moms Delivers Rousing Speech In Support Of Marriage Equality: VIDEO" »

Austin Takes Major Steps Forward On Transgender Rights


Austin on Thursday became the first city in Texas — and the 43rd in the nation — to add transgender-inclusive health benefits for employees.

The City Council unanimously approved a resolution adding trans-inclusive benefits — including primary care, hormone therapy, mental health care and surgical care — beginning in 2015. 

The council also voted to require business owners to install signage indicating that single-stall restrooms are gender-neutral, and approved a resolution on pregnancy guidelines that specifically includes transmen.

From trans activist and HRC board member Meghan Stabler (above), who lives in Austin: 

BREAKING: Today, the Austin City Council unanimously approved a resolution directing the City Manager to incorporate transgender-inclusive benefits as part of the City employee benefits package in the Fiscal Year 2015-2016 proposed budget. Specifically the City Council approved three trans* friendly items:

Ordinance — single occupancy gender neutral restroom signage now required.

— Directs city manager to incorporate Trans-inclusive health benefits for city employees as part of Fiscal year 2015-16 proposed budget
— Directs city manager to examine workforce practices in other cities regarding personnel policies for **pregnancy-capable** employees & develop recommendations for implementation to council May 1st 2015. – note that the resolution specifically includes transmen.

Express thanks go out to CCM Mike Martinez and Chris Riley for steering this through for the vote. There were several local advocates involved in this for months, well done.

The trans-inclusive benefits were opposed by the Travis County Taxpayers Association, and gender-neutral restrooms faced opposition from the anti-LGBT group Texas Values and its President Jonathan Saenz, according to a recent report from KTBC-TV

“Legally, politically and financially, this is not a smart move by the city of Austin,” Saenz said. "There are major privacy issues and safety issues when we deal with these type of transgender bathroom issues and we’ve seen them come up in Houston and San Antonio, where women are concerned about sharing or having to use a restroom where maybe a man’s gonna come in before or after them, you have small children and little girls.”

Jimmy Flannigan, an openly gay City Council candidate, has also come under attack from his opponent for supporting the gender-neutral restroom proposal. 

But Thursday's actions by the City Council only further solidify Austin's reputation as the queerest city in Texas. 

Next up? Rainbow crosswalks


Gay-Friendly Corporations Refuse To Come Out Against 'License To Discriminate' Bills In Texas


Eight companies with perfect scores on the Human Rights Campaign's Corporate Equality Index have contributed money to the campaign of Texas Republican Sen. Donna Campbell (above right), the author of legislation that seeks to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constituion. 

But none of these otherwise gay-friendly companies have come out in opposition to SJR 10, which Campbell filed early last month.

The Texas Observer reports: 

“SJR 10 is one of thousands of bills filed, we will weigh in and comment on bills when and if they are scheduled for hearing,” said Mona Taylor, a spokeswoman for Dallas-based AT&T Inc., which contributed $5,000 to Campbell’s campaign through its PAC this year.

Other companies with perfect HRC scores that have contributed to Campbell’s campaign in the last year include General Motors Co. ($2,500), Citigroup Inc. ($1,500), UnitedHealth Group Inc. ($,1000), the Raytheon Co. ($1,000), Merck & Co. ($1,000), Genentech Inc. ($750) and Astellas Pharma Inc. ($500).

On Monday, Plano added itself to the list of cities in Texas that have passed ordinances banning anti-LGBT discrimination. Two days later, state Rep. Jason Villalba, R-Dallas (above left), filed a House version of Campbell's "license to discriminate" bill — and another lawmaker is threatening to introduce a similar measure, The Observer reports. 
Experts say the legislation would severely limit cities' ability to enforce nondiscrimination ordinances, since any business owner could claim an exemption if they have "a sincerely held religious belief." But the unintended consequences of the constitutional amendment could be far worse, according to Equality Texas' Daniel Williams.
Texas already has a statute, known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that provides strong protections for religious freedom. But the proposed amendments would supplant the RFRA and go much further, overriding the statute's exceptions for things like zoning regulations and civil rights laws, according to The Observer

“A church or a synagogue or a mosque could conceivably be built anywhere with no concern to traffic flow or how much parking is available or building codes,” Williams said. “There are butchers that butcher in accordance with very specific religious laws, and they’re able to do that, but the city and the state enforce environmental protections that ensure we don’t wind up with giant ponds of blood in residential neighborhoods. If you take away the ability of cities to enforce those, it’s going to have an enormous negative impact on the quality of life for everyone in that area.”

Williams said Campbell has introduced similar measures in three previous legislative sessions. Given the senator's penchant for seeking to enshrine a "license to discriminate" in the state Constitution, the companies' campaign contributions could reasonably be interpreted as an endorsement of the legislation — at least until they publicly state otherwise. 


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